Focus on Five: Researcher Profiles
In every nook and cranny of Brock University are researchers blazing trails, enabling the wider community to move forward with new information, insights, and innovations. Each month we bring you five such individuals who are making a difference in the world around us.
When consumer psychologist Antonia Mantonakis and her colleague Keri Kettle from the University of Miami had a hunch that having a winemaker’s signature on a bottle of wine would make customers think that that wine was higher quality, the research team decided to test it out.
They conducted an experiment at Riverview Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake in which, on one day, the person pouring the wine produced by a Niagara winemaker made sure to point out the winemaker’s signature on the bottle.
Sales went up 500 per cent on that day. But there was an intriguing twist. “We found that it was the locals who responded to this signature,” says Mantonakis. “We suspect consumers thought, ‘Here’s this local wine maker, a Brock graduate, showing her pride in craftsmanship on this bottle.’ The consumer then feels a personal and an emotional connection, and so they’re more likely to want to buy it.”
Mantonakis is renowned nationally for her studies on consumer behaviour, much of which is focused on the wine industry. She is also one of the organizers of the June 12-15 international Academy of Wine Business Research (AWBR) conference, which is being held for the first time in Canada, at Brock University.
Statistics Canada reports that the number of inter-racial couples is rising in Canada, a fact that makes sociologist Tamari Kitossa both optimistic – and cautious.
“The assumption is that, because there are more inter-racial couples, it means that these unions are a proxy measure for racial tolerance in our society, but no one is really asking them about what’s happening in their lives,” says Kitossa. “Being in an inter-racial relationship, I can attest to the fact that its not all roses despite the notion that it means that there’s greater level of tolerance.”
Kitossa and his research partner Kathy Deliovsky - also in the Department of Sociology - are two of very few researchers in Canada who are examining the on-the-ground realities – as well as the trends and statistics – of inter-racial unions. He says the results of their research will enable society to better support relationships between people of different races.
Kitossa also made history at the end of May by organizing Canada’s first-ever international conference that looked at the African-Canadian experience. More than 60 international researchers and others presented papers on a wide range of topics including racial profiling, which is also Kitossa’s expertise, women’s empowerment, Africentric schooling and culture.
Mary Breunig, environmental educator, Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies
Where’s the best place to teach children about the environment? In a classroom where there are no walls and dirty hands are encouraged.
With a grant she received last year, environmental educator Mary Breunig and her fourth-year students created an “outdoor classroom” at a Niagara Montessori primary school.
“This particular one had stumps, which was seating for 20 students, native Canadian plants, some trees that are going to create shade over time and then a platform for the teacher to teach from,” says Breunig. She and her students are starting a second outdoor classroom at a Fonthill primary school in the fall.
These outdoor classrooms are part of a “Greening Niagara Schoolyards” program that Breunig aims to set up with the hopes of further promoting grassroots environmental education initiatives in the community.
Breunig’s scholarship focuses on bringing more environmental education into K-through-12 Ontario classrooms as well as exploring the impact of Ontario high school students’ participation in Integrated Environmental Studies Programs on changes in students’ environmental behaviours.
Breunig, who is an associate professor, was also recently named director of Brock’s new Social Justice Research Institute.
Elizabeth Sauer, English literary scholar, Department of English and Language and Literature
Modern-day ideas of nationhood, freedom and other concepts we take for granted – and that we think are obvious – have actually evolved over hundreds of years, often with bitter struggles experienced by thinkers putting forth those ideas.
The English poet and author John Milton was one such thinker. Through such works as Paradise Lost, the 17th C poet, polemicist and civil servant broke new ground in his day.
“Paradise Lost it is the most important work in the English literary canon and it actually conveys very intriguing ideas about the constitution of the nation and ideas of liberty of conscience, freedom, free will,” says English literary scholar Elizabeth Sauer.
Sauer is a renowned expert on John Milton. She won the prestigious national Killam Fellowship award, which enabled her to write the soon-to-be-released book Milton: Toleration and Nationhood, as well as an earlier book.
For Sauer, Milton’s literary works model the process and content of critical thinking, skills that must be developed and applied. “All is not well with our society,” says Sauer. “One needs to be educated and empowered in order to make the positive changes that are needed and you can only do that by engaging in critical analysis of what’s going on around you.”
Michael J. Armstrong, operations management associate professor, Goodman School of Business
Every year, near the end of his courses, one or two students would inevitably tell associate professor Michael J. Armstrong that, although they failed their quizzes, they planned to get an 80 per cent on their final exam, giving them a good solid B in the end.
“I would sit back and think, ‘they worked out the math, but they’re not making the connection that, if they got 40 per cent on the quizzes, they’ve almost got no chance of getting 80 per cent on the final exam,’ Armstrong recalls. “Once in awhile that will happen, but the odds are really against it.”
That’s because there’s a “predictive value” in the quizzes, says Armstrong. To motivate his students to set and achieve their academic goals – and get a more realistic view of where they’re at – Armstrong created a computer program that predicts the marks students will get on their remaining tests and assignments based on what they’ve scored so far.
Students in about a half-dozen classes in the Goodman School of Business entered their preliminary marks onto Armstrong’s spreadsheet, receiving feedback on their expected future performance. More than half of the students reported feeling more motivated in their studies, with the majority saying that they studied harder as a result of the tracking.
Armstrong says his computer program can be applied in almost all first and second year university courses, and is keen to share his model – recently published in Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education – with any university professors who wants to motivate their students.